OHIO VALLEY — Despite lawsuits and health studies, the controversial manufacturing substance C8 remains unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cincinnati attorney Rob Bilott is urging the agency to take swift action in light of recent findings from the C8 Science Panel.
Eleven years ago, C8, also known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, was detected in area water supplies. At that time, Bilott notified the EPA of the presence of the “previously undisclosed threat to human health” — C8 contamination that had been making its way from DuPont Washington Works and into local drinking water for decades.
Since that time, the chemical compound, which is used to make Teflon and thousands of other consumer applications, has been the subject of litigation in four states. A class action lawsuit filed by Bilott on the part of local water consumers developed into a settlement intended to resolve the debate over potential human health outcomes. The case involved the consumers of several public water supplies, including Lubeck and Mason County, West Virginia and Belpre, Pomeroy, Tuppers Plains and Little Hocking, Ohio.
As a result of the settlement agreement, nearly 70,000 people were recruited to participate in the C8 Health Project and to have their data analyzed by the C8 Science Panel. Recently, the panel announced some of their conclusions — linking the manmade substance to pregnancy-induced hypertension, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer and kidney cancer — diseases Bilott says have impacted thousands of Mid-Ohio Valley residents. The panel’s final results are expected before the end of October.
Despite the collection of data and the passage of time, the EPA has yet to release any regulations or guidelines for chronic human exposures to C8 in drinking water. In 2009, the agency issued an informal, provisional health advisory for human short-term exposure, but Bilott says the agency has “never issued any regulatory or otherwise enforceable limits on long-term exposure to PFOA in drinking water”.
Bilott says he is concerned because he recently discovered EPA intends to delay actual regulatory activity until 2025 — or 24 years after he first requested action on the part of his Mid-Ohio Valley clients.
“On behalf of our individual resident clients who have been and/or continue to be exposed to PFOA in their residential drinking water, we again urge U.S. EPA to take action more quickly to release appropriate limits and guidelines for PFOA in drinking water applicable to long-term, chronic exposures, particularly given the recent data confirming thousands of cases of serious human disease linked to such exposures among impacted residential communities,” Bilott said in an Aug. 20 letter to EPA. “Twenty four years is far too long to ask our clients to wait.”
The EPA has committed to a nationwide monitoring program involving C8 and other substances of concern from 2013 to 2015, but regulatory limits seem little more than a distant possibility. Through a public information request, Bilott uncovered the agency’s intent to delay the process with data analysis scheduled for 2016 – 2017 and a regulatory determination to be proposed in 2020 – 2023 and finalized 2022 – 2025. The information was part of an email exchange from the office of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to US EPA staff in response to an article by Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette.
“It seems clear the EPA should be acting expeditiously,” said David Altman, attorney for the Little Hocking Water Association — whose water supplies measured the greatest amount of C8 contamination. In a separate action, the water association has filed a federal suit against DuPont over the corruption of their natural resources — their aquifer and wellfield. That case is ongoing.
Altman said the EPA should regulate C8, but he cautioned “be careful what you wish for” because a hasty decision could be detrimental. He does not want to see a “rush to [arrive at] a number that doesn’t protect people.”